Choose Trust Over Control: Building an Awesome Web Team


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Presented by Amanda Brown and Jeff Abuzzahab at MinneWebCon 2011.

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  • The word “guru” has gotten some flack in the past few years, with SXSW giving rise to a bunch of “gurus” about everything. Also, this Mike Myers movie that I bet your worked REALLY hard to completely wipe from your mind. \n\nWe’re using guru in the sense of “teacher,” and someone that can be approached for knowledge. To be a good teacher, however, you must be a lifelong learner, which is a trait of our guru model that we’ll talk about later. \n\nIf you have an aversion to the word “guru,” sorry, but it’s happening here. \n
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  • Our middle management was so busy trying to stabilize that the audience was forgotten. Also, we had (and still have) the challenges of multiple audiences: students (undergrad and grad), educators, faculty, staff, plus people from a lot of communities outside of the University.\n\nPeople identify with the big “brand” name, and the “store level.” I went to the University, and I majored in English. I buy Apple products, and I like the Apple store in Roseville. That middle management level is missing in a lot of cases, and that is ok!\n
  • An outside firm was called in to “re-brand” everything, to kick off the post-merger environment with a new identity. However, there was no story to tell, because there was no content, and because people didn’t really relate to the “middle management” as a brand. \n\nA brand without content strategy is like fondant without any cake underneath. Nice to look at, but you wouldn’t want to eat it. The Pantone book is an awesome tool, but crappy bedtime reading. \n
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  • With the guru housed in the departments, we’ve taken out the “faceless web person” part of the equation. People know who I am, they know where to find me, I’m around in the office to stay in the loop. \n
  • Dan Pink talks about three factors that motivate people. All three are things we work to incorporate into the guru model, and are part of what makes it successful.\n\nWe already had the model going before I read “Drive,” but this really helped us put our finger on what was working right, what was making the gurus happy, and how to make things better.\n
  • I can make the changes I want. I can talk with people in my department and we can choose what’s best and I can DO IT. I don’t have to descend into an endless cycle of meetings, asking permission for a ton of things. My own judgement is trusted and I can act on it and that feels AWESOME. \n
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  • Jeff’s wing man thing.\n\nAmanda: I lived in Japan for two years, and when I came back, I decided to work at the U again. Being out of a job, I took the first thing offered to me, which was a lot of answering phones and doing administrative support. I loved my coworkers there, but was a little bored with my job. A chance meeting with the web team, and they realized that I had design and web backgrounds. I became the web guru for my unit, but since I’d been hired to answer phones and be admin support, they weren’t too sure how to incorporate everything. When the position that I’m in now opened up, I had the support of the web team to get my foot in the door. Now I’m in a position that is new everyday, with different choices and challenges. I totally, totally dig it.\n
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  • The autonomy to make changes gives me a sense of purpose as a guru. I can do things, I can make decisions. I’m not in a bubble, but I’m not just another go-between or a perpetual cog. \n\nJeff: meetings and list-serv\n\nAmanda: We also get together socially. Knowing your co-workers as people, breaking down that “faceless” part again, builds trust. We share things we have because there’s no point in hoarding, and we know it’s being used well by people we know as people. If something gets screwed up\n
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  • Choose Trust Over Control: Building an Awesome Web Team

    1. 1. Choose Trust Over Control:Build an Awesome Web TeamJeff Abuzzahab and Amanda BrownCollege of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota
    2. 2. A noteabout the word “guru”
    3. 3. Our “great” plan forThe Four Fails the web: 2006-2008
    4. 4. Software FailBuying a CMS withoutany content to manage.
    5. 5. Content FailLots of content, but nounifying strategy (orany strategy, really).
    6. 6. Design FailNew colors!New font!New layout!No content, no story.
    7. 7. Production FailWho does what?When?Why? How?
    8. 8. On Fixing Content• Load up the table with your front line folks, and learn about your customer.• Each unit constructs its own content and web gurus (housed in the units) put together the content strategy.• The middle management site became the place to direct people who weren’t quite sure of what they wanted.
    9. 9.
    10. 10. On Fixing Production• One small, agile office is in charge of the web at the “middle management” level. (Ours is four people.)• Production and access is given to all departments, with a the web guru responding to departmental needs.• No more “faceless web person” in another building - or another city!
    11. 11. On Fixing Design• Developing a standard but extremely flexible template for everyone to use.• Gurus can customize template to fit departmental audience and goals.
    12. 12. Making a CSSFramework thatWorks for Youwith Mr. Dan Sagisser3:00, room 135-ADan can tell you more about ourweb templates. He may or may notbe wearing this awesome shirt.
    13. 13. Unity
    14. 14. Freestyle
    15. 15. Firefly
    16. 16. Chiller
    17. 17. Serenity
    18. 18. On Fixing Software• Our CMS gave gurus access to edit everything (everything!) on their site.• It’s easier to teach people HTML than it is to teach a convoluted system that works around HTML and pretends it doesn’t exist.
    19. 19. What kind of insane world is this?IT in charge of the biggest communications channel!Units empowered to produce content without police!Units have their own unique look and can say what they want!Dogs and cats living together!
    20. 20. The Guru ModelWeb Guru: | ŏnoun (pl. -rus)A web specialist housed in a department that is in tune with the department needsand collaborates with other gurus about best practices and solutions to problems.
    21. 21. Guru Motivation•Autonomy•Mastery•Purpose
    22. 22. Guru Motivation: Autonomy•The guru is empowered to make fitting changes.
    23. 23. Suit up!
    24. 24. Guru Motivation: Autonomy•The guru is empowered to make fitting changes.•Have a wing man, be a wing man.
    25. 25. Guru Motivation: Mastery•HTML is a language, and gurus are communicators.•Study Halls to dive deep into guru-chosen topics.•Gurus work in their own site, on relevant projects.
    26. 26. Guru Motivation: Purpose•Not just “another” level of go-between. It feels good to get things done on your own!•Regular closed-door meetings and private listserv•Social outings build trust, help you see coworkers as people.
    27. 27. GROW YOUR OWN GURU This can totally work for you
    28. 28. Check out yourorganization• How do things like up with the brand/management/store model? Where are you in that?• Share your vision one-on-one, and bring people together to develop a plan.• Look for hidden gurus; it’s a way of thinking, not a bullet list of programming languages.• Start small, look for transition, and share knowledge.
    29. 29. The web is culture.The web is people.It’s not just a project, and it’s not just for one person. Choose trust over control. Jeff Abuzzahab Amanda Brown : : : 612-624-6034 : 612-624-7854 @abuzzahab @amandaesque